Hydration is easy. Just drink water when you’re thirsty…right?
Many Esports athletes tell me they let thirst guide them (and sometimes don’t even listen to thirst if they’re in the thick of a good gaming session). Here’s the thing, thirst only shows up after you are already dehydrated. It’s a protective feedback mechanism telling you: “You messed up and now I’m suffering. Go get me water ASAP!”
By the time thirst hits, performance has already been compromised. What’s worse, even if you start drinking immediately, you still have to wait for the fluid to complete digestion, absorption, transport, and uptake into the places it needs to go.
Bottom line? If you’re waiting on thirst, it’s far too late. Pros say: “I don’t get thirsty.”
I’m sure you’ve heard that the human body is as much as 60% water. Well, the brain is as much as 73% water! There’s a reason – the sheer amount is your body’s way of telling you what’s important to it. Water is an essential component to every single body system. Without it, there are some expected decreases in performance:
- Endurance and strength capacity decreases
- Perception of effort increases (for everything)
- Impaired ability to alter body composition
CHRONICALLY DEHYDRATED INDIVIDUALS ARE 61% MORE LIKELY TO BE OVERWEIGHT OR OBESE
Excess body fat comes with an increase in chronic inflammation which causes its own issues for cognitive performance, which I’ll discuss in greater detail another time.
However, because the brain is a higher % water, your brain feels dehydration much more strongly than the rest of the body. If you look at a dehydrated brain under a brain scanner, it is shrunken and looks similar to a brain with Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, as little as a 1-2% dehydration impairs memory, attention, decision making, reaction speed, and other cognitive faculties.
Further dehydration results in further performance decreases. That sucks.
The worst part about it? Because you are constantly looking through the lens of your own brain, you don’t notice that your cognitive faculties are impaired. It’s kind of like being ‘used to’ sleep deprivation. Sure, you’re doing alright now. But then you get that one awesome night of sleep and all of a sudden you realize what you’ve been missing.
Some bad news
Research has shown that as much as 50% of professional athletes show up to competition games already dehydrated! This is terrible! And I can tell you from experience that Esports athletes aren’t doing much better.
Good hydration practices during tasks are unable to compensate for a poor hydration status at the start of those tasks (it’s too late).
Follow a hydration plan!
Here’s the exact protocol that I’ve used with hundreds of Esports athletes. The best part is that it’s easy to implement.
To calculate your daily fluid needs, do the following
- Divide your weight (in pounds) by 2 to find your base-level fluid needs (in fluid ounces).
- If needed, add sweat losses (see below). You are sweating regularly, right? Activity does wonders for the brain.
For example, a 200 lb. individual would need to consume 100 oz. per day + sweat losses from physical activity.
To calculate net sweat losses
(Feel free to skip this section – only read if you are really trying to level up your hydration game):
- Weigh yourself with only undergarments before physical activity.
- Weigh yourself with only undergarments after physical activity.
- Make sure you towel off any residual sweat before weighing.
- Subtract post-weight (2) from pre-weight (1)
- For every 1 lb. lost, consume 24 oz. of fluid.
For example, a 200 lb. individual weighs 196 lbs. after exercise. They lost 4 lbs. and should consume 96 oz. to properly rehydrate. The 4 lb. loss corresponds to 2% of their bodyweight (4/200 = 0.02). The goal of hydration during exercise is to avoid 2+% dehydration, so this person did not do a good job hydrating.
To calculate sweat rate (Feel free to skip this section – only read if you are really trying to level up your hydration game):
Sweat rate is a useful metric that will allow you to approximate fluid needs during exercise moving forward. This is a short cut, which is fine if it is not feasible to weigh in and out around every session. You start with the same procedure as above, but need to account for things like fluid ingestion and bathroom use.
- Track fluid intake through activity and add weight of fluid consumed to starting weight (16 oz. = 1 lb.).
- If you use the restroom, you will need to measure and subtract from your starting weight.
It’s easier math if you don’t use the restroom during exercise, and also saves you from having to handle your own excrement. Let’s say our 200 lb. athlete above didn’t use the restroom but did consume 16 oz. of fluid (1 lb.). We see that while the net loss was 4 lbs., he actually sweat out 5 lbs. (200 + 1 lb. fluid ingestion – 196).
The final step in the sweat rate calculation is simply to divide sweat loss by time. Let’s say the above training session lasted 2 hours. The sweat rate would then be 2.5 lbs./hr (5 lbs. divided by 2 hours). Under similar conditions (training type, temperature, altitude, etc.) you can expect to sweat a similar amount and make a plan to drink accordingly. I would recommend this person drink 10 oz. every 15 minutes or 20 oz. every 30 minutes based on rest breaks (2.5 lbs. = 40 oz.).
Hydration and Urine
Urine color can be an approximate gauge for hydration status. The kidneys will preserve water when they sense that the rest of the body is dehydrated. As a result, urine will become more concentrated in dehydrated individuals. If your urine is dark yellow/orange, it is a sign that you are dehydrated. Be extra vigilant to hydrate in the morning as you lose fluid through the night. Mondays are another at-risk period as most Esports athletes have wonky sleep and hydration patterns over the weekend.
Use the following chart to see where you are at (I have clients post these in their bathrooms):
- Don’t drink your water all at once. Instead, slowly drink it throughout the day. This will enhance absorption.
- Get a clear refillable water container and mark it with lines and times to remind yourself to keep drinking. For example, the top line might say 9:00 AM and it will remind you to drink down to it by then. You can also buy one pre-marked.
What About Sports Drinks?
They should never be a ‘go-to’ drink throughout the day. They are packed with sugar and might as well be soda. If you want to drink a sports drink, earn it. They can be beneficial for endurance performance in hot and humid environments. Otherwise, stick to water.
If you want an easy way to be ahead of 50% of your competitors (see above note about dehydrated pro athletes), start taking your hydration seriously.
A GOOD THING TO REMEMBER
Hydration for today started yesterday. Hydration for tomorrow starts today.
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